A group gathered in front of the Logan Circle gallery Transformer around 6 pm Thursday to march to the National Portrait Gallery downtown. Organized by the executive director of Transformer, Victoria Reis, the group was protesting the National Portrait Gallery’s decision to remove the 1987 video, Fire in my Belly, from an exhibition. The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Smithsonian Institution.
The 1987 video, Fire in My Belly, is now playing continuously in the front window space at Transformer, 1404 P St. NW. The video was removed from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in downtown DC after complaints about depictions of Jesus. The video will run continuously in Transformer’s front window space until reinstated at the National Portrait Gallery, according to Transformer.
“Your right-wing critics, including in the Congress, know nothing and care nothing about art. They care not a wit about freedom of expression, or free speech, or “the American promise of equality, inclusion and social dignity.” – from Transformer letter to Smithsonian
On its website, Transformer states, “Under pressure from the Catholic League, The Smithsonian Institution has removed this work from the National Portrait Gallery’s current Hide/Seek exhibition. Starting TODAY, DEC. 1, Transformer began showing this video work in our 1404 P Street, NW Washington, DC storefront project space, and we will continue to run the video 24 HOURS A DAY until it is reinstated.”
Transformer had copies of a letter that was sent to G. Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (and available on the website). The letter addresses one of the main criticisms of Fire in My Belly — an image of an ant-covered Jesus. Of this scene, the letter notes:
Wendy Olsoff, who represents the Wojnarowicz’s estate, said: “David believed the imagery of ants’ society was parallel to human society.” You must know – but in the event you do not – we the undersigned are here to tell you that your right-wing critics, including in the Congress, know nothing and care nothing about art. They care not a wit about freedom of expression, or free speech, or “the American promise of equality, inclusion and social dignity.”
You can read the entire letter at the Transformer website.